WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military is committing more aircraft to the battle with al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts in eastern Afghanistan, sending in five Marine Corps attack helicopters after enemy fire damaged Army copters.
Military officials said all of the Army AH-64 Apache assault helicopters operating in the battle zone had been hit by weapons fire. Some of the choppers were damaged enough to require repairs but none were shot down during the operations south of Gardez this week, officials said.
The five Marine AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters went into battle Tuesday, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They moved to a base in Afghanistan from the USS Bonhomme Richard in the North Arabian Sea, along with two CH-53 Super Stallion transport helicopters.
The Cobra, with a crew of two, is armed with a 20mm cannon and can fire a wide variety of precision guided missiles, including Hellfire and TOW anti-armor missiles and Sidewinder anti-air missiles.
Apache helicopters also have a two-person crew and carry 30mm cannon and can fire Hellfire anti-tank missiles, 70mm rockets and anti-aircraft missiles.
Threats to U.S. interests extend beyond the battle in Gardez. U.S. intelligence has learned of a plot to conduct multiple car bombings in the Afghan capital, Kabul, against both Western interests and the interim government headed by Hamid Karzai, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The attacks were to have been carried out by terrorist cells with links to al-Qaida, the official said. It was unclear what became of the plot.
The New York Times reported in its Wednesday editions that U.S. officials have detected Internet traffic among al-Qaida members indicating the terror network may be trying to regroup in remote sanctuaries in Pakistan near the Afghan border.
The new communications traffic was a serious concern because U.S. officials fear that al-Qaida could use the Internet to launch new terror attacks against the United States, the Times reported, citing senior American officials.
U.S. troops have detained four people during the most recent fighting in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said. Another man was detained and released, Clarke said.